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Microsoft President Brad Smith announces the company’s latest commitment to high-speed rail in the Pacific Northwest. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

Microsoft is determined to turn the Pacific Northwest into a connected innovation mega-region akin to Silicon Valley, starting with better transportation between the biggest cities in the area. The Redmond, Wash., software giant has already helped get new flights between Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. off the ground.

Next up? High-speed rail.

Microsoft is giving another $223,667 to study the possibility of building a high-speed rail line connecting Vancouver, B.C., Seattle, and Portland, adding to a previous donation. The company is providing a total of $573,667 to the project. Other funders include the Province of British Columbia; the Oregon Department of Transportation; and Washington Department of Transportation.

Microsoft President Brad Smith announced the company’s latest commitment to high-speed rail study at the Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference in Seattle.

“We found the fourth part of the funding needed to get this feasibility study done,” he said. “I actually found it at Microsoft. I didn’t have to look very far.”

Since 2017, government officials and business leaders in the region have been exploring the possibility of creating a high-speed rail line that would ferry passengers from Seattle to Vancouver in less than an hour. The feasibility study has raised several rounds of funding. With the latest commitments, the Cascadia Innovation Corridor members plan to finish the study by the end of 2020.

The Washington State Department of Transportation estimates that a high-speed rail connecting the three cities would spark $355 billion in economic growth in the region. The project will cost approximately $24 billion to $42 billion and would generate between $160 million and $250 million in annual revenue, according to transportation officials.

In addition to the economic boost, WSDOT estimates that the rail system would reduce carbon emissions by 6 million metric tons in the first 40 years.

The high-speed rail system is projected to travel faster than 200 MPH, transporting passengers between Portland to Seattle and Seattle to Vancouver in under an hour. It would be built using high-speed rail, magnetic levitation, or hyperloop technology, according to WSDOT.

“Everywhere you go in the world people are thinking big and the fundamental question we should always ask ourselves is, ‘why not us?'” Smith said. “The people who built this region thought big. Are we really following in their footsteps without the capacity to dream big dreams and make them come true?”

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